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Ecologies of Socialisms

Germany, Nature, and the Left in History, Politics, and Culture


Edited By Sabine Mödersheim, Scott Moranda and Eli Rubin

This volume explores the complex webs of interaction between the environmental movement, socialism, and the «natural» environment in Germany, and beyond, in the twentieth century. There has long been a divide between the environmental, or «green,» movement and socialist movements in Germany, a divide that has expressed itself in scholarship and intellectual discourse. And yet, upon closer inspection, the split between «red» and «green» is not as clear as it might at first seem. Indeed, little about the interaction between socialism and environmentalism, or socialism and the environment, fits into a neat binary. In a way, the discourses, positions, and policies
that structure the interactions between environmentalism, nature, and socialism in German history and culture can be said to constitute a kind of ecology – a complex and interdependent web of relations, which can appear as antagonisms, but which can also contain deeper, less immediately visible, interdependencies. Ecologies of Socialisms attempts to combine the work of scholars from a wide range of disciplines (history, literature, German/Austrian studies, philosophy, geography) in order to contribute to a better and more nuanced understanding of how «green» and «red» have clashed and also merged in German history and culture.
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Justifying Air Pollution in the GDR, 1949–1989 (Michel Dupuy)


Michel Dupuy

Justifying Air Pollution in the GDR, 1949–1989

When the communists took power in East-Germany, they inherited an industrial state which had already seriously polluted the environment and damaged agricultural production.1 Once the SBZ/GDR began rebuilding its industry, after the period of Soviet dismantling, in 1948, it reverted to its main energy source: lignite, also known as brown coal. In 1944, the area that would become the GDR had extracted 173 million tons of lignite. In 1946 this dipped to 108.4 million of tons, but by 1953 it had returned to 1944 levels.2 Lignite is a dirtier-burning energy source than black coal, releasing far more sulfur dioxide (SO2) and also dispersing a significant quantity of dust during its combustion. There was little the GDR could do about the problem, however. The construction of high chimneys to disperse pollution required time and money the GDR did not have, and until the beginning of the 1980s, there was no cost-efficient filter for SO2 emission. Thus, from the beginning, air pollution was a problem at the heart of socialism; the authorities needed to either justify it to residents affected or remain silent. For the most part, they remained silent – newspapers acknowledged smog’s presence in 1953, but then published nothing on the topic until December 1, 1989.3

Nonetheless, scientists in the GDR studied pollution extensively between 1949 and 1989.4 In the 1950s, the focus was on dust, but after←115 | 116→ the 1970s, SO2 received significant...

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